Toxic Butts

In June 2017, the Santa Barbara City Council passed and the mayor signed into law an ordinance (SB 9.20.020) prohibiting smoking in outdoor areas throughout the city, including on public beaches and in city parks. “Cigarette butts contain nicotine and carcinogenic bits of non biodegradable cellulose acetate which are toxic to wildlife and pose a risk to human health,” states the environmental organization Ocean Conservancy, which estimates that 1.69 billion cigarette butts become litter in the U.S. annually.

This city ordinance is important as many of Santa Barbara’s beaches and coastal parks have an overabundance of cigarette butt litter that frequently works its way into our oceans.

Cigarette butts can be lethal or cause carcinogenic tumors when ingested by shore birds such as the California gull, the California brown pelican, the endangered Western snowy plover, and others.

Cigarette butts when they come into contact with water release a toxic mixture of nicotine, cadmium, arsenic, and heavy metals. Many sea creatures such as sea cucumbers, sea anemones, and others have only a thin membrane that does not protect them from these toxins, and they intake seawater for their circulatory systems, making them especially vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Similarly, fish are extremely vulnerable to cigarette butt toxins as they intake seawater through their gills.

As residents of the Santa Barbara, let’s work together to preserve and protect our beautiful coastal environment. Pick up litter, especially microtrash that includes cigarette butts, and inform smokers in outdoor areas, including our beaches and coastal parks, of the illegality of their smoking and of the lethal affect that cigarette smoke and cigarette butts can have on our marine environment!

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